The Houston Astros are reportedly in the market for more pitching before they begin their World Series defense.
On Monday, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reported Houston has discussed a potential trade for starting pitcher Gerrit Cole with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Passan noted Houston outfielder Derek Fisher has been included in the talks, although he granted Pittsburgh "almost certainly would need Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley as a centerpiece."
Passan suggested it is no surprise the Astros are looking for an additional "frontline starter" since Dallas Keuchel is set to be a free agent after the 2018 campaign.
The reported interest in Cole comes after Astros owner Jim Crane said the team could look to add a pitcher with pieces from the farm system, per Alyson Footer of MLB.com:
Alyson Footer @alysonfooter
Astros owner Jim Crane said team could dip into farm system to acquire a front-line starter if a deal makes sense: https://t.co/OiKpYwQZtV2018-1-8 17:14:59
Cole is an interesting case study on the trade market considering he is only 27 years old but is coming off two straight disappointing seasons compared to the elevated standards he helped set for himself in 2015.
He was an All-Star in 2015 as the Pirates reached the playoffs and finished with a 2.60 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 202 strikeouts in 208 innings. However, he tallied a 3.88 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 2016 and a 4.26 ERA and 1.25 WHIP last season.
Still, someone who is theoretically in the middle of his prime and who boasts a postseason career WHIP of 0.88 figures to be an attractive target for an Astros team coming off a World Series title and expected to compete again in 2018.
From Pittsburgh's perspective, it could potentially parlay that interest into an impact prospect or two in an effort to accelerate a rebuild after missing the playoffs the last two seasons. Tucker or Whitley would fit the bill considering they are the best and second-best prospects in Houston's farm system according to MLB.com's rankings.